Can India Expect Halcyon Days Ahead From Pakistan’s PM In-Waiting Imran Khan? – OpEd


On July 25, 2018, Pakistan’s 11th General Election took place. The PTI led by PM in-waiting Imran Khan had become the largest party, although it has not reached to the magic number of 137 seats. In this election, about 10.6 crore people had participated as voters for the 276 seats (National Assembly of Pakistan); and 297, 130, 99, 51 seats for provincial assemblies of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan respectively. In general elections of Pakistan, generally, India used to be painted as major threat and vice versa. Soon after the declaration of election result, the PM in-waiting Imran Khan, in his half an hour televised speech, had focused on Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy, how he would likely to see his country and how he is going to engage the neighbouring countries including India. The way he wanted to engage India conditionally keeping Kashmir issue as the focal point, it is anticipated that the Indo-Pak relations would not see or experience halcyon days ahead.

India and Pakistan relations had been remained tense in general and it has become more critical particularly under the current regimes on both sides. The CBMs had been put in limbo on the alleged allegations and accusations of aiding and abetting terrorism on both sides. The bilateral relations had become bad to worse given some terrorist attacks in India like Mumbai (November 26, 2008); New Delhi (‎‏13 December 2001); Gurdaspur (27 July 2015); and Pathankot Air Force Station (2 January 2016) etc. In the series, the Uri attack was considered as to be one of the most, “deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in two decades, ” which has taken place on 18 September 2016.

The Uri Attack had left very serious implications for bilateral and regional dynamics. At the bilateral level, the attack was condemned by the Indian leadership. Home Minister Rajnath Singh had accused Pakistan and called it as a “terrorist state”, in the backdrop of “continued and direct support to terrorism and terrorist groups.” India has started its diplomacy to isolate Pakistan in the comity of nations. The same opinion was echoed by the opposition party (Indian National Congress). It has said that there was no more scope for constructive dialogue with Pakistan. Consequently, the official line of the Indian incumbent government like talk and terror would/should not go together, was further concertized.

The terrorism has also been playing havoc with the regional security and stability. The Uri Attack had left drastic impacts over the regional political engagements. This argument was built in the backdrop of India’s decision not to be part of coming to the 19th SAARC Summit to be held in November 2016 (Islamabad, Pakistan). The India Ministry of External Affairs had issued a statement, “… one country has created an environment that is not conducive to the successful holding of the 19th SAARC Summit in Islamabad (November 2016). In the prevailing circumstances, the Government of India is unable to participate in the proposed Summit in Islamabad.” Whereas on the other hand, NDTV reported (September 28, 2016) that FO of Pakistan called the Indian withdrawal as “unfortunate” and issued a statement accusing India of violating the international laws by espionage and intervention inside Pakistan. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Bhutan have also followed the suit and withdrew from the SAARC Summit.

Both countries have been trying to counter and malign each other in the international forums by raising the issue of infiltration, militancy, and terrorism. India asked the UNHRC to urge Pakistan to stop cross-border infiltration and check the non-state actors like Hafeez Saeed (Chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba) and Syed Salahuddin (Chief of Hizbul Mujahideen), who are moving freely in the country. Its substantiate the argument of Pakistan has been extending active support for such groups.

Pakistan Elections 2018: National security

The Pakistan Election 2018 had taken place on 25 July. The PTI has emerged as the largest party by winning 115 seats and going to make the next government. Keeping in mind the major challenges haunting by Pakistanis, strengthening the economy of the country had made a major electoral issue and promise by all the three major parties – PML(N), PTI and PPP. The manifestoes of the all the three parties had vowed to increase the annual GDP rate; develop the socio-economic zones; creating a million jobs; building million low-cost housing units; provision of accessible of education and health facilities and the resolution of unemployment etc. Additionally, issues like water, corruption, CPEC, and of course national security have also been figured prominently.

On the backdrop of these non-traditional security challenges, what is/are the major concern/s of Pakistan’s national security? Previously, Pakistan military doctrines have been holding India as one of the major security concerns. However, later on, the new doctrines (2013), did some course of correction and convinced that it is not India, instead, it is the homegrown militancy is the major national security concern. During the campaign, the major political parties (PML-N, PTI, PPP), had tried to convince the people that they are living in the safe country and would keep on “fighting terrorism and militancy” as well as left no stone unturned to protect the borders against the hostile forces.

Over the years, the internal security environment has deteriorated and emerged as the foremost national security challenge. Homegrown terrorism and fissiparous tendencies are the major challenges. Jalalzai (2015:178) has argued in one of his books that Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had substantive experience in aiding, abetting and fueling insurgencies and terrorism in Afghanistan (the 1980s) and Jammu and Kashmir (1988-89). But on the other hand, the same army has been failed to fight the same. Now the same homegrown insurgency and terrorism are proving a pain in the arse of Pakistan’s military and civil leadership. Of course, Pakistan and India had fought wars over the Kashmir issue. Only India is to be considered as a major security concern, should/could be taken as hyperbolized. However, Kashmir issue has hijacked the Indo-Pak relations during the last 70 years. Under the PM-in-waiting Imran Khan government, would there any possibility to see the normalized and improved relations.

Perhaps, the Kashmir issue would remain a problematic issue. How Kashmir issue would remain in the political psychology Although, several reports indicated that the rhetoric of Kashmir has been remained a “non-issue,” particularly in this election. It is also said that this time Kashmir issue did find very little mention in the manifestoes of the three major political parties. But at the same time, some of the statements of the major players of Pakistani politics, which proved the above-mentioned argument as wrong. On 8 April, Shahbaz Sharif (President of the PML-N) pledged to make Kashmir a “part of Pakistan”. On the other hand, he launched a trenchant attack on Indian PM Narendra Modi by saying, “seeing the barbarism and brutalities Modi is enforcing in Jammu and Kashmir, our blood boils.”

PM-in-waiting Imran, how he is going to place Kashmir issue in Pakistan politics, would decide the Indo-Pak relations. The Kashmir issue has not figured prominently in the manifestoes of the major political parties. Soon after the declaration of the election result, PM-in-waiting Imran Khan in his half an hour televised speech has focused on Pakistan foreign policy, wherein he indicated that how he going to deal with neighboring countries including India. His speech has given an indication that China, Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the US would remain on the priority list to get engaged and India has figured at the last of the list. Under his stewardship, Pakistan would try to learn a developmental model and check the corruption. Afghanistan’s instability given the war on terror and jihad considered as challenges and wish to see Afghanistan as a peaceful, stable Afghanistan with open borders. With Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US, Pakistan would like to maintain a balanced relationship.

It was India, which found its place at the last in PM-in-waiting Imran’s speech. Rather than envisioning bilateral positive and constructive engagements, instead he held India responsible for the sorry state of affairs in Kashmir. He blamed Indian media for projecting him as Bollywood villain. Later on, he tried to balance his statement by saying nobody in Pakistan knows India more than me. Pakistan needs good economic relations with India.

For PM-in-waiting Imran, Kashmir would remain as a core between the Indo-Pak relations. Although PM-in-waiting Khan in his nuanced message, hinted an olive branch with India it unlikely take place. As Siddiq Wahid (the Former Vice-Chancellor of Islamic University of Science and Technology) suspected Khan to be “unpredictable” and it’s “hard to know what stance he is going to adopt on Kashmir.” He alleged India for, “human rights violations” in Kashmir. However, he said, “We have to solve Kashmir issue by sitting across the table, If India’s leadership is willing then the both of us can solve this issue through dialogue.” On the other hand, the overture was reciprocated by a congratulatory message from PM Modi. PM Modi congratulated PM-in-waiting Imran on his party’s victory and conveyed, “Pakistan and India will work to open a new chapter in bilateral ties.”

However, many people, scholar have expressed suspicion about the solution of Kashmir issue.

In this backdrop, would there be any possibility of halcyon days ahead, which needs to be seen through the prism of some questions? Under the captaincy and stewardship of Imran, the first question is, in which direction the Indo-Pak relations would move? Would Pakistan keep on considering India as one of its major security concerns? How Kashmiris would decode the PM-in-waiting Imran’s Kashmir policy. At the last, it is concluded that Kashmir would remain as a major hindrance between Indo-Pakistan relations. It would remain difficult for Imran Khan to come out of the established political and military establishments. Moreover, Kashmiris are not much hope for the resolution of the same by Imran Khan.

For Pakistan, Kashmir would remain the core issue. For India, terror and talk would not move together. These rigidities on part of both countries had put the diplomacy and CBMs into limbo. In the backdrop, both countries had suffered a lot. Both countries should learn from the European and Asian countries, who sorted out their border dispute.

*Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching at the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India.

Dr. Bawa Singh

Dr. Bawa Singh is an Associate Professor, Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India

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